One of this year’s most shocking bits of news was Square Enix’s announcement that it intended to sell IO Interactive, the studio behind the iconic Hitman franchise. After all, last year’s Hitman game was well-received by gamers and reviewers, and undoubtedly one of the top video games to be released in 2016 too.
But now the future of IO Interactive is hanging in the balance, and the Danish studio has even had to lay off workers recently, in preparation for a future without Square Enix’s support.
There’s still hope for the Hitman franchise though, as in an English transcript of Square Enix’ briefing with investors this May (via GameSpot), the Japanese publisher made it clear it wants the Hitman franchise to continue.
According to Square Enix‘s president Yosuke Matsuda, “because the firm is engaged in the development of Hitman and other renowned titles, we are negotiating with prospective external investors capable of ensuring that these titles carry on”.
It’s not yet clear, however, why Square chose to sell IO Interactive given their desire to see Hitman carry on. In relation to this, Matsuda said that “the decision to withdraw from that business was the result of a review of our Group’s allocation of both financial and human resources”, and that the decision was motivated also by “the competitive landscape in the western markets as well as other considerations”.
Although it shouldn’t take much thought to figure out that Hitman’s poor performance last year was likely the main factor behind Square Enix’s decision. This is because despite the quality of last year’s Hitman reboot game, it did not sell that many copies judging by unofficial sales data on vgchartz.com, which indicates the game did not even shift 1 million copies across all platforms.
And the fact IO Interactive choose to release the game piecemeal might have also had to do with it not doing so well last year, and proves that the episodic release model might not work so well with AAA games aside releases like Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead adventures and a few others like Life is Strange.
So despite the fact that 2016’s episodic reboot of Hitman got great reviews overall, it’s unlikely future games in the franchise will be similar to it, especially if Square Enix ends up keeping the Hitman IP and IO Interactive moves on to developing other games. If anything, future Hitman games may be more stealth than action-oriented like 2012’s Hitman: Absolution, which sold quite a bit more copies than last year’s edition. And they almost certainly won’t be released episodically either.
Although hopefully IO Interactive will still be the ones making Hitman games in the future, as this is a talented studio which has some good games in its portfolio like Kane & Lynch and Hitman: Blood Money, the latter still being one of the top stealth games ever made and one of the best in the Hitman series to date.